Days after a fatal shooting downtown that shocked the public and authorities, Charleston police said the department will ramp up patrols in an effort to prevent crime.
Beginning Thursday, residents will see more deputies and State Law Enforcement Division agents downtown, with traffic checkpoints and extra patrols throughout the peninsula.
A second police commander has been assigned to the night shift and the SWAT team will be activated for "proactive interdiction control," which police defined as stationing officers in high-crime areas to arrest wanted people with criminal histories. Officers who usually focus on community oriented policing, traffic and narcotics work will form extra patrol units to supplement the usual rounds.
The stretch of King Street where Tom DiLorenzo, 63, was fatally shot on Friday morning as he walked with his wife, Suzanne Austin, the new provost at the College of Charleston, has a low rate of violent crime. Police have increased patrols there since protests calling for an end to racism and police brutality following the death of a Black man in police custody in Minneapolis in May.
"People don't want us to depolice, quite the opposite," Chief Luther Reynolds said. "People are concerned right now, (they) need to know that we're paying attention."
In a city with relatively low rates of violent crime, where officers promptly arrested two teens suspected of killing DiLorenzo, Reynolds said he hopes the increased visibility will remind the community that Charleston police have been present all along.
Officers have been working long hours to deal with the pandemic, protests calling for justice in George Floyd's killing and Friday's homicide. Reynolds said he's proud of the force's dedication, especially as officers have increased community response in attempts to help with drug overdoses and homelessness.
But ACLU of South Carolina Director Frank Knaack said police don't have the resources to solve the social problems with which so many are tasked, and worried the increase in officers will do more harm than good. Traffic stops and increased patrols will only threaten justice if they target low-income communities or focus on people who've already served time for their crimes.
"All this will do is criminalize poor people, criminalize Black people," Knaack said. "We know what happens when police go down this road, it's not new."
In the wake of a departmentwide audit probing racial bias, Reynolds said officers as focused as ever in ensuring they don't further alienate Charleston's marginalized communities. The new program won't approach stop-and-frisk protocol, he said, and officers will be more focused on necessary arrests than ticket quotas.
Reynolds claimed that most residents have asked for increased policing, and that the department will focus on areas with recent swells in complaints. The augmented force will focus on community-based policing as well as arresting violent criminals, he said, and address quality-of-life concerns in addition to real danger.
"That's what we do every day, and we hope to build on that model through this mission," Reynolds said. "It's just all hands on deck."